Matmos is M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, aided and abetted by many others. In their
recordings and live performances over the last nine years, Matmos have used the sounds of:
amplified crayfish nerve tissue, the pages of bibles turning, a bowed five string banjo, slowed
down whistles and kisses, water hitting copper plates, the runout groove of a vinyl record, a
$5.00 electric guitar, liposuction surgery, cameras and VCRs, chin implant surgery, contact
microphones on human hair, violins, rat cages, tanks of helium, violas, human skulls, cellos,
peck horns, tubas, cards shuffling, field recordings of conversations in hot tubs, frequency
response tests for defective hearing aids, a steel guitar recorded in a sewer, electrical
interference generated by laser eye surgery, whoopee cushions and balloons, latex fetish
clothing, rhinestones on a dinner plate, Polish trains, insects, ukelele, aspirin tablets hitting
a drum kit from across the room, dogs barking, people reading aloud, life support systems
and inflatable blankets, records chosen by the roll of dice, an acupuncture point detector
conducting electrical current through human skin, rock salt crunching underfoot, solid gold
coins spinning on bars of solid silver, the sound of a frozen stream thawing in the sun and a
five gallon bucket of oatmeal.
Photo: Julien Bourgeois - Matmos in the GRM studio - 2008
|X-ed Out no drums - Vibrö 5
I have always liked the way that John Baldessari works with found images from cinema and
the media and re-constructs and editorializes them by obscuring crucial elements: faces,
noses, sometimes entire heads of recognizable people are simply replaced by a flat and
colorful shape indexing their absence. The result of this kind of withholding is always a mixed
emotion, a “happy sad”. For our contribution to Vibrö we have done the same thing to one
of our songs. M. C. Schmidt took an elaborate and completed studio mix of a song called
“Xed Out,” which we have been playing live for years, and simply removed the drum track and
rhythmic framework upon which all the other instrumental parts were based.
||The result is a bit
like taking the spine out of a mammal, or the face off of a saint or a starlet. Enjoy the absence
and feel free to imagine what rhythm belongs in its open place. (Drew Daniel)
Mastered by Francois Bonnet (GRM) at the 116 bunker
|WE’RE A HALF-BREED MUSIC MUTANT THING
MATMOS INTERVIEW - BATOFAR 01/06/2004
Interview : Valérie
VIVANCOS and Rodolphe ALEXIS
la version française : RESUME DE L'INTERVIEW
Vibrö: Not your
first time playing in Paris…
Drew: We played before in a room full of
Herbert fans that wanted to hear house music, we were doing more improvisations
( clicking electronic sounds)
and it was literally a room full of people jumping up and down (
beats) going “Herbert will never die!”. So this will
be our third time. The first time was our first tour, ever, of Europe and I remember
just being stung by the dying trees at the core of that library (Bibliothèque
François Miterrand). It’s such a beautiful vision to put the
trees there but it’s so thoughtless and weird…
Martin: It looked great on the architect’s
model, I’m sure, like “trees!
Wouldn’t that be great?
Where we were in Seville was like that too. T, they built this Expo in 1992 that
was very futuristic looking and now there are weeds coming through this JG Ballard
environment of rotting modernism, it’s kind of sad…
Drew: It’s kind of beautiful too, this sort
of vision of the future abandoned, and collapsed, and going back into nature,
whether it likes it or not. It makes it more poignant and less corporate to see
V: Like the dotcom buildings in San Francisco ?
D: Yeah, we’ve got this thing near
our house that we call ‘the dotcomnument’ because they knocked down
a tall building and they had this huge hole in the earth.
M: It’s in our neighbourhood, right
in the Mission. They were gonna build this nine storey building next to one storey
houses. And they only had the parking
lot dug so now there is this clean,
hole in the ground…
It’s like a Gordon Matta Clark artwork.
V: Or ground zero?
D:Yeah, exactly! I think that they should turn it into a swimming pool,
maybe, just fill it up with water…
V: You are still living in San Francisco, teaching art,
doing your academic work. You used to say that your sound work was a ‘hobby’.
Do you still see it that way or has it taken new dimensions after your collaboration
with well a know pop artist (!).
M: It’s still a hobby in that we don’t make a living out of
it and we don’t have to do it..
D: We kept our day Jobs.
M: The Bjork stuff… Well if that was something
where we were told: “you
are going to do this thing for the rest
of your lives…for the same amount
of money” Definitely! I would do it, because it paid extremely well!
And it was …erm, a great job!, I mean, how could you say ‘no’ to
flying all over the world and facing crowds of loving people who do nothing but
love everything you do! But you know, I don’t think that could ever be
a job! Maybe Mickey Mouse get that kind of…
D: Mickey Mouse and Bjork inspire that kind of love…
M: every one loves Mickey Mouse, everywhere. Maybe not…
D: I mean, it was a kind of moment when what we
were doing and what she was interested in were sort of overlapping and the
timing worked but, fundamentally, what
we were about is making Matmos records and I think working with Bjork was really
fun and really challenging and difficult but it’s not the main focus of
what we’re doing creatively and that makes sense because, ultimately, we
were helping her with her songs and she’s a songwriter who thinks in a
very melodic way and she' s
talented at that… But that’s
not where our talents lie…
M: Drew and I have different views on it. To me it never really-super-made-sense
because we’re so-not about ‘real music’.
V: Did you get any backlash for that?
D: Now, it’s more like we got a lot of
exposure to people who now find out about us because of Bjork, but I’m
not sure they ‘like’ it
M: Some do, some are more adventurous…
D: It’s been positive
M: Yeah, very positive!
D: It’s just weird when you’re playing
a show and you want people
to be there because they’re interested in what you do and sometimes there
is this feeling that they can’t go up and talk to Bjork so they’ve
come to talk to you about her…
M: Oh, I don’t think so… It certainly
never happens twice! The first time, maybe but the second times, the ones who
want to hear music go like “Ugh,
this isn’t what I expected!”…
D: Or they realise that we’re nerds! Pop
music often involves projecting a magical world of coolness that's somewhere
else and buying the record or going
to the show is getting a glimpse through a keyhole of that magical, cool world
and whenever you meet someone at a show and you really talk to them like a person,
they see that you're not some superhero, you're just like a normal jerk... So,
I like to demystify and be approachable. The mystique has to come from the
records. If the records have mystery, that's where mystery should lie... its
not in us as people. Because singers use language with
pronouns like "I" and "you" and "me", there's a
feeling that the mystique is in the person, not in the music but really all along,
it's artifice, it's all artifice... ...
M: People project meaning into songs with words, that isn't necessarily there.
D: Which explains things like Charles Manson's
reading of the Beatles or that guy who shot John Lennon, or the people who hear
messages. That kind of listening
is happening all the time... this sort of fantastical embroidering onto something
that is just a simple structure".
V: What’s your position regarding composing or
using the heritage of “Musique Concrète”?
M: Well, we’re at its home, now, in
D: We’re about to do a concert with Francis
Dhomont, who is one of the great
from the Montreal/Québécois acoustic scene and I think it will
be scary to play with him because that’s the first time that what we do
an what these people do will actually be put on the same stage. I find that
really inspiring but I don’t know if we are, maybe too ‘pop music’ to
really count, we’re a half-breed music mutant thing.
M: Yeah, we’re not pop music enough to be pop music…
D:…And we’re not academic enough to
be ‘Musique Concrète’… I
think we just made the record that is just the most explicitly ‘Musique
Concrète’ our working life, which is the rat piece. In the
way of a composition it’s much more responding to a field recording and
using the timing of the field recording as a guide to structure the piece. So
the dividing points in this composition are entirely where the rat screamed and
it’s not an intentional choice where we said “well, musically it
makes sense to cut here” it’s formal.
Is chance part of the process?
D: Yeah, or a structure that is not conscious...
V: Do you relate to Deleuze theory, developed in ‘Mille
Plateaux’, of layering rather than composing?
D: I think that’s adequate as an account
of the process but, then, we always take a step backwards and we always do things
compositionally. Having read Deleuze recently, his Dialogues with Claire Parnet,
he talks of micro-politics, politics of particular detail or particular contingencies
rather than a macro structure where everything is being rationalised through
and I think that’s true about the way that we work… But it sounds
pretentious! But I think Deleuze is one of the thinkers who attempts
hierarchies, whether they are for political reasons or poetics, he’s the
most conducive to understanding the way that, in electronic music, there isn’t
a theme with resolutions…
M: I’ve never read Deleuze, so there is no chance me being influenced by
V: And yet, you put a reading list on your site…
M: Yes that’s the reading list from our class.
I guess what I was interested in, in assembling that list was to draw some parallel
between structures and details in a lot of different fields whether it’s
psychoanalysis or conceptual art making, or logic, or the early manifestos, around
conceptual art making in the sixties, there is a sort of “dream of structure” that
can control or marshal all the particular cases, that they can be rationalised
in a higher structure and we sort of set out Bataille, at the end, as this sort
of anti-systematic thinker who’s gonna assert not structure, not hierarchy
but something horizontal.
V: Where are you at Now, what are your projects?
M: Well, we’ve been concentrating very
hard for the last month on touring, which is a very interesting thing to do and
so unlike anything else that we do but I suppose it’s just like any other
band, in a way, cause in a bottom line functional way we’re not like a
rock band, we’re more like a movie or a play.
D: Because of the objects and the process and the way that is important to our
M: to really get what we do, it’s good to be sitting down and in the dark
and comfortable so you can pay attention for an hour. Have you ever been to the
Batofar before? Not the ideal place for Matmos, at all!…In fact, it’s
hard not to be sad about this sort of things… I mean, I like the Batofar,
it’s a great place to have a party, great for a DJ or a punk rock band…
D: I think it’s very Matmos in a way, though, cause it’s taking an
object and using it with a different function that it was intended for and that
sort of what we do sonically…
M: Ever the optimist!
D: It’s good cop / bad cop!
M No, and we’ve had some excellent, excellent times but it raises questions
about the way this music is presented and I know other people have the same sort
of issues. I’ve seen, for example, Markus Popp, before, in a bar where
everyone is standing up with beers in their hands and after about 10 minutes
like “anyway, bla, bla, bla”, they all start talking to each other
because it’s just not the physical to pay attention to anything…
D: Musique Concrete was better at this…
M: Well, their method was to pretend that it was a formal classical music concert
and they would have a listening event, tape music concerts, and you would go
in a place where they normally do classical music concerts.
V: They do that at the south Bank Centre in London,
and in Beaubourg too… And What about laptop shows:
M: I can feel very silly when everyone is
facing in one direction, facing nothing on stage, it seems like this kind of
nice joke about eternity or something… yes at a point that bothers me
too, facing someone doing something that is practically nothing, and we might
as well be listening to a perfect tape or a CD without the possibility of technical
bad things that come from setting up in a hurry and using an unshielded cable
out of your laptop.
D: What that sort of proves is actually Deleuze’s
idea of faciality machine
that you’re not free to not have a face; that you have to have a face with
which you present yourself to the world. Laptop performances become all
the facial expressions. (If the performer seems to be smiling, then
a good show…) and little tics (like “uh, that was a mistake”… ).
They are constantly looking at their screens and looking as if they’re
about to fall in, that’s it’s a well where some whish will become
true out of their screen. And it’s all
about the drama of their little facial tics and it kind of proves that Deleuze
was on to something with that idea.
||M: We should
do a show where we smile like idiots through the whole thing…
D: That happened a couple of times with Bjork,
when my computer crashed and I had to pretend that I was having the night of
my life and play keyboard with
one hand and try to restart with the other.
M: Well, you didn’t have to pretend…
D: Well you feel this obligation to keep the ball
in the air.
V: About the economics
of small labels and the record
You’ve been saying that you are not making a living out of your own records
which people would expect after so many years and exposure…
M: You would expect!
D: It’s something about being an
artist, at least in America, that is sort
of an understood thing that you’re going to have another job. I
know only one artist, in San Francisco who lives off his work.
D: Matthew Barney
M: No, Not anymore
M: He’s a plumber…
D: I mean, in Europe there has always been much
more of a history of government’ support for the arts, though I guess that
with somebody like Berlusconi, in Italy, that’s
changing too… As right wing people come into power and that’s not
so reliable anymore and I guess it’s part of the broader debate about what
you take the task to be, whether it’s just an aesthetic one or whether
there is a political question; what society values and what it doesn’t
I don’t feel entitled to live off such weird music, I think that would
be pretty unrealistic. I don’t think we’re entitled to, because we’re
not trained as musicians…
M: Wait!… that would entail that you had
promised to make music!
D: Which I never really did
M: So why would you be doing something dishonest
by earning money at what you’re
D: No, I said I didn’t feel I have the right
to earn a living as a musician
per se, because I’m not a musician. I don’t even have that to feel
self righteous about...
M: Nobody ever said you’re a musician…
D: Well, it’s a tricky call cause, this
is not an art gallery, that’s
a club, and we’re in it and we’re on stage and there are lights and
we’re up there and they’re down there…
M: So other people get to call the shots about
what you do?
D: No but there is a limit… I think the
climate of discourse in which stuff circulates puts limits on how you are received.
You’re always free to say
that what you’re doing is actually performance art or what you’re
doing is actually religion or it’s actually therapy. Of course, you’re
free to define yourself but you’re not actually free to determine what
people that like you think you’re doing, or whether they believe you… It’s
just like Vanessa Beecroft; she says that her performances are “acts
of painting”…and she can say that, but I don’t necessarily
buy it… it’s the same if you say that we’re not doing music,
when we’re actually on tour and we are a band in some ways.
V: Let’s not argue about this!…
M: But this is a Matmos Interview!
V: The point you raise
is interesting… As I was
wondering if you also, sometimes, ‘sell’ the show as performance
art to art galleries…
M: We are very, very lucky in that we have never
sold anything to anyone! We have never gone to places and gone “We want
to put on a show”! Actually until this tour and we didn’t do it,
the booking agent did. So I don’t know what he told them… And I suspect
he didn’t say, “I have a hot band that will bring in lots
of people!”. At least I hope he didn’t… Yes, so we are very
lucky that we never had to defend ourselves to someone who was trying to make
money from it.
D: Or who was going to get funding based on a
proposal like grants proposals, like “We want to make this art but we won’t
make it unless
the Rockefeller fund gives us 20 000 dollars and if they don’t give it
to us, then we won’t make the art…”Thankfully, with sound,
that’s not so much an issue…
M: This is also what you get when you don’t
try to make a living out of
it and, right there, that’s the line, I suppose… where you’re
selling what you do as opposed as doing what you do and if people are interested,
they get in touch with you. My father is a painter. He
paints landscapes and he’s been painting for 65 years or something like
that and I think maybe he’s had two shows! I mean, he has hundreds and
hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of paintings and they just get stacked up…I
think he burns them after a few years… They’re beautiful paintings
but they’re not something he does in order to have shows or be famous or
whatever, though, I’m sure if someone came to him and said “we want
to put on a show of your paintings” he’d say “Wow, ! Yes, that
would be nice, thank you!”. So we are very lucky in that we made those
CDs and the means of distribution… It’s true that we didn’t
give them away for free but in fact people take you less seriously if you give
them away for free. So the way to have people listen to our art was to put it
into this world of music. And it really had a very, very, very lucky result!
And it’s kind of why we started doing it more in the first place… Drew
was Djaying in a club, in 1991 and we had made a song together and we were like: “We
can actually get away with playing this and everyone will think that it’s
music and people kept dancing, and someone came up to us, and it was
a TV show, he was like: “What was that song!” and we were like: “Wow,
that was us!” He was like: “I own a record label and I want to put
that out!” We were like: “Really, gee, do you like that?” And… he
never did anything, he was kind of crazy, nothing ever came out of this but it
made us think “well, whatever we’re doing, we should keep doing it!...”
To return to your question, we’ve only done one piece that was presented
as art, and not as music, and that was an installation for a residency we were
asked to do in this museum and it was very difficult. We tried and explain
that what we do isn’t visually appealing and I think that’s still
a real block even if it’s sound art, and the point is the sound,
and the point is the sonic nature of the experience. There’s
There’s still a sense in which it has to look interesting in a photograph
and has to look like something worth listening to.
D: Which is not different than the problem of
packaging a pop star’s face
with no zits, you’ve got to look interesting, and that’s weird! And
that’s what is radical about sound…
M: Yes, That’s hilarious, the first day
we were in a gallery, we sort of brought all this stuff in there and started
setting it up
D: Our whole living room…
M: And the gallery director came in and said “erm,
is this it?” and
we were like “well there’s this cable missing… well I think
this is all of it, why?” “Well, it doesn’t look like much…” “Well,
it’s sound art, it’s not spectacle art…”
D: It’s a visual culture, it’s
hard to overcome that and this
is why sound art is still radical, it’s a tough sell as far as making people
stay in a room and for that reason gestural performance is still the way you
get people to attend to sound, sadly or not, depending on your views. We were
brought in as sound artists and we were shocked that we still had a to beg them
turn off the fans,
M: It was an air conditioning system that was
It was on two weeks, all day, every day…
D: We were there for 97 hours..
M: Eventually we were like “Well sometimes
we would like it to be silent…” and it would never, ever be silent!
It was like showing your paintings in a room
with a strobe light or something…
D: Maybe that would work for your dad…
V: In a way your Field
Recording process is like a performance, a situationist adventure. And that
part is less obvious in the end result because you worked over it…
M: We’ve done some random actions that
have to do with our practice but that aren’t driven to an object as the
outcome, like a record. We were going to play a show (this is right when we started
to work with the balloons as a sound source) and we promoted the show by tying
flyers to balloon and then letting them free in the city so the wind would blow
them wherever, and that was our way to promote what we were doing. A sort of
random promotional gesture/magic. That to me felt more true than what the source
of the sound was than finding a trendy record store and put a sign on the wall…
M: Which we also do! Don’t let him try to make you believe that we only
put up balloons, we put up posters too…
D: when you record out on location, it pulls
you out of your studio comfort and
it usually gives you a result that’s not quite what you wanted but that,
down the line, you use, anyway. Like, we were looking for quiet sounds when we
were making that rabbit pelt sound for the last album, the ‘Civil War’ and
there is that terrible traffic noise when we got it and at first we thought,
we don’t want this! We want to make this bucolic story about the forest
but we decided that, actually, it would serve the narrative purposes of the song
if the rabbit ran in terror and had a sudden swerve near a highway. So, suddenly,
the very thing we didn’t want turned out to be what we wanted after all.
I think the world is really generous with sounds and it’s not as interesting
when you just get exactly what you want. Its more interesting when you have to
struggle a little bit more.
M: What we do a lot is just following
what we are given. I guess it’s like
a Zen thing, the watercourse way. We are trying to record ‘quiet
and we get traffic, so we use traffic… On the ‘Civil War’ album
we did ‘stars and Stripes Forever’ and we did it because we were
in Alabama, visiting Drew’s grand-mother and we had promised each others
that we were going to do no sound art. We brought no equipment, we were going
to enjoy our time visiting Grandma!… And I open the newspapers and they’re
having this ‘context ’for 150 grand pianos at the same time… and
we were jus like “ok, we have to do this, we have to
this thing!” and
then we went there and it was just an amazing piece of American… horror!
There was a preachers who spoke before, who was like “We’re all gonna
cry when we hear these American songs”. It was just cornball crap, amazing!
And then the childlike amazement of 150 grand pianos trying to play at the same
time and failing miserably! It made this beautiful piece…
So, we are a strange sort of conceptualists. We do a nice job of curating things
at the end, where it seems that what we were heading for is what we were trying
to head for all along… But then we tell the truth in interviews, ruining
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